David Cameron announced on Friday he would step down as Conservative Party leader and prime minister in the autumn after losing a referendum on Britain’s European Union membership.
Since Cameron campaigned fiercely for Britain to stay in the EU, the 52-percent vote to leave made his position untenable.
His resignation is a huge loss. Cameron led the Conservatives to two election victories by making the right appealing to voters in the center again. His successor is likely to be more reactionary and will anyway be in thrall to the Euroskeptics for whom the outcome of the referendum is a vindication.
It’s unlikely to hurt the Conservatives in the short term, given that Labour has taken a holiday from electability under Jeremy Corbyn. But if and when they get their act together (and two parliamentarians have already called for a confidence vote in Corbyn), it’s the Conservatives, if indeed they repudiate the Cameron line, who will lose out.
In a speech outside 10 Downing Street in central London, Cameron listed some of what he considers to be his biggest accomplishments as prime minister: leading Britain to economic recovery, legalizing gay marriage and maintaining foreign aid. The last two aren’t exactly traditional Conservative Party priorities.
Around the time of the last election, I argued that Cameron was the most liberal leader the United Kingdom was going to get.
For those who support free markets and free trade, openness to the rest of the world and international cooperation, the British vote to exit the European Union as well as Cameron’s resignation are steps in the wrong direction.
Janan Ganesh laments in his Financial Times column that Cameron’s legacy will likely be overshadowed by Britain’s exit.
“Since Anthony Eden launched a botched military intervention in the Suez Canal sixty years ago, there has been no greater prime ministerial humiliation,” he writes.
Which is unfortunate, because Cameron’s accomplishments, while underrated, have been profound. From devolving authority to local governments and schools to overhauling the welfare state, his government has redefined the relationship between Britons and the state.
If the referendum had been won, Cameron would have made a significant impact on the future of the EU as well.
I argued last year that by opting out of “ever-closer union,” giving national parliaments more power and securing Britain’s place outside the eurozone, his renegotiation could have paved the way for a two- or multispeed Europe. Now those changes are not going to happen and the impetus will rather be centripetal — to the growing exasperation of so many European voters.